Aurora loses pair of well-known residents

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by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER

Aurora -- The city lost two well-known residents -- Harold Hartman and Donna French -- last week.

Mr. Hartman was known for his sugar house, where maple syrup was made on his Townline Road farm, and he served on City Council during the 1960s.

Mrs. French created the Aurora schools elementary libraries in 1964 and served as head elementary librarian for 3 1/2 decades.

Harold Hartman

Mr. Hartman, 94, died Jan. 22, 2013. He was a lifetime Aurora resident. The sugar house was believed to have been put on his property in about 1917. He operated it for many years. Last fall, Mr. Hartman con structed a new sugar house.

"Harold wanted to upgrade the sugar house and preserve the history of maple sugar production on his property," said Parks-Recreation Director Jim Kraus.

Mr. Hartman sold his farm to the city a few years ago, but the city allowed him to remain on the property until he died, Kraus said.

"He was a really nice guy. He loved to tell you about his life," said J.J. Kudley, a parks-rec department employee. "He always gave us maple syrup."

"Harold had one heckuva farm," Councilman Dennis Kovach said. "The sugar house was unbelievable. He was a very knowledgeable, down to earth man and a real good farmer. He knew a lot about the trees. His property was magnificent."

"Harold has done a lot for the city," Councilman President George Horvat said, while Councilman Jim Vaca added, "He was an all-around nice guy. He was very pleasant, smart and articulate."

"Harold was extremely kind, fun to talk to about things and had a wealth of information about the history of Aurora," Kraus said.

"I always knew when I went to visit or discuss something on his property, that I should plan some time, which was a fun part of my job. He always treated me and my staff with respect. I was fortunate to get to know him in the seven years I have worked for the city and definitely better for it."

Donna French

Mrs. French, 81, died Jan. 21, 2013. She was the Aurora schools' head elementary librarian from 1964 until she retired in 1998.

In the early 1960s, there were two elementary schools in the city -- Aurora Elementary, now the Craddock building, and Lake Elementary, now occupied by Valley Christian Academy.

"As an avid reader and lover of children, Mom was quite distressed that neither school had a library at the time," said daughter Suzanne Spilsbury. "Somehow, she persuaded administrators to allow her to use a wide spot in the hall at Aurora Elementary and a small storage room at Lake Elementary to set up libraries."

Since there was no budget for elementary libraries, Mrs. French acquired books creatively, her daughter said, obtaining book donations from local families, purchasing books on her own and borrowing books from the Portage County Library in Hiram.

"I have vivid memories of her transporting these books in our family's Volkswagen Microbus for the trip back to Aurora, where, with the help of her six children, ages 3 to 11, and their willing friends, she would unload and begin the task of organizing," Spilsbury said.

Spilsbury said her mother enjoyed reading and telling stories to children, helping children acquire the love of reading, helping children use and expand their imaginations, having the opportunity to make sure that the best books were available to children, and making the school library a place of safety, welcome and wonder for each child.

Linda Kovach, wife of the Councilman, said Mrs. French "made the library an adventure for children."

"It was so much fun for the kids," she said. "Mrs French dressed in character and wore hats, including a witch's hat. She would change her voice while reading stories.

"One time, the story revolved around cranberries, so she brought out cranberries for the kids to eat. You never knew what you going to find except that it was going to be fun and entertaining. My kids became readers after that. She really impacted everybody. Decades of Aurora children are better off because they were with her."

Mrs. French once purchased an antique claw-foot bathtub for the Craddock School library.

"Mom lined it with shag fur, and students, when it was their turn, would get a reading session in the 'reading bathtub,'" Spilsbury said.

"Wherever we went in Aurora, children would stop and say, 'Hi, Mrs. French!'" Spilsbury said. "That included children in every July 4 parade that ever passed in front of her house for 20 years. One time, even Gov. Bob Taft called her by name as he traveled past in Aurora's parade.

"Mom would want to be remembered as a person who made a positive difference in the lives of children," she added.

Email:mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330541-9400 ext. 4187

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